Sin - By Firebrand, Chapter 11, Fantasy

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Sin - By Firebrand, Chapter 11, Fantasy

Post  Firebrand on Fri May 04, 2012 10:19 am

Chapter 11

Days on the road had made Sin lean and wiry. He could run for long stretches now, and could lift heavy objects without strain. But nonetheless, his muscles ached after walking day after day for a week straight. He always took an early watch, and only the watchers who took several shifts got to ride the horses. He had spent the entire week since Wide Crossing on foot, and now he was starting to pay for it.

He groaned and massaged the back of his calf. On his shoulder Chifumi yawned. She had watched all night last night, and because of her size could ride on anything she wanted. The monkey tugged playfully at his hair. “Not long now.”

“How do you know, Fuzzball?”

“I ran some messages to Castle Town over the years. I know what the landscape looks like. We passed Vanderholt yesterday, the last village before the Capitol. We’ll be there soon.”

In fact, the demon was correct. An hour later, Sin spied the gigantic, imposing walls of Castle Town rising up above the Forest in front of him.

“That must be the largest structure ever built by human hands,” he gasped.

“Demon hands,” Orrin corrected. “Humans barely touched the stones during the building process. Demons cut, carried and laid the walls, and the first houses. Were it not for the demon labor, the Capitol would not exist.”

Sin nodded. “I think Harrison told me that once.”

They rode on in silence until the gates came into sight. The day was approaching midafternoon, and the guards stationed at the gate looked rather bored. As they drew closer, Orrin and Julia stopped suddenly. Damin turned and took Orrin’s hand.

“I guess this is as far as you go?”

The young woman nodded sadly. “Yes. It’s not safe for us in Castle Town. Orrin is Unbonded, and if I’m found with him, I could be persecuted.”

Lisana hugged Julia. “I’m going to miss you.”

Julia smiled sadly. “Perhaps we’ll meet again some day. I hope so. I never had a sister, and I’ve been starting to think of you like one.”

Sin gave Orrin a quick embrace. “It’s not going to be the same without you around. You’ve been a great help these past few weeks. I don’t know if we would have made it as far as we did if not for you.”

Orrin ruffled his hair. “Of course you would have. You all are something special, I’ll give you that.”

Damin pounded his closed fist over his heart, a warrior’s salute. Orrin returned the gesture. “Good luck out there, big man.”

“You too, soldier.”

Thalia inclined her head. “You will be missed by all of us. I bid you a fond farewell.”

Kelrick shuffled his feet. “I hate goodbyes like this.”

“Fair winds be at your back, old friend,” Anjaru said with a wan smile.

“May your road lie flat,” Orrin replied.

Chifumi leapt from Sin’s shoulder and wrapped her tiny arms around Julia’s neck. “Bye!”

Orrin glanced at Grey, who had stood awkwardly off to one side. “Well, boy. Aren’t you going to say goodbye?”

“I… I was kind of hoping I could come with you,” Grey said softly. “Orrin, you’re the only person who’s ever cared about me. You made sure I was fed and clothed. You took me away from the robbers. And… I don’t want to leave you.”

Julia sniffed. “Well, you may come with us, but you will still be my valet.”

Grey smiled. “I don’t care! Bye, everyone! Sin, maybe I’ll see you again someday.”

Sin nodded. “I hope so. It was nice to meet you, Grey.”

Orrin shouldered his pack, and Grey took Julia’s. They waved one last time, and then vanished back into the Forest. Damin swung up onto his horse, and steered it towards the gates. Anjaru held up a hand.

“Wait. Before we go any further. Mistress Lisana, you must not be afraid to order Kelrick, Thalia and I around in the Capitol. As your demons, people will expect it.”

Lisana shook her head. “That goes against everything I stand for. Besides, I’d only succeed in making a scene.”

“It would cause a larger scene if you don’t,” Kelrick replied.

“Really?”

Thalia nodded. “To every other sorcerer in the kingdom, demons are nothing but slaves. If you don’t treat us like that, then you will get noticed more.”

Damin came trotting back. “Perhaps it’s best if you ride then, on this horse. It looks more regal than Dusty.”

Sin took the bay draft horse’s lead in his hand, and the demons walked alongside Lisana. Damin chuckled softly. “She’s really getting into character. Better watch out.”

The older guardsman was right. Lisana had set her eyes straight ahead, and her chin was lifted in a way perfect for looking arrogant. One hand was on her hip while she inspected the nails on her other hand. As they drew up to the gate, one of the guards stirred, and thrust out his spear.

“Halt! State your business!” He sounded as though he was merely repeating something he said day in and day out, with no feeling behind the words.

“Out of my way, mortal!” Lisana commanded.

“Oh, and who’s Miss High and Mighty?”

Lisana sniffed haughtily and flipped some of her hair. “I am Lisana the Great and Terrible, the greatest sorceress in the South, coming to Castle Town on urgent business.”

“Really now? You and half the people who pass through this gate. Proof of identification?”

Lisana drew her wand. “Fire.”

The tip of the guard’s spear suddenly burst into flames. He cried out and tried to beat it out upon the dirt. His partner, who had not spoken or even moved to this point, laughed raucously.

The second guard turned to Lisana. “Well, you’re obviously a proficient sorceress, ma’am. Maybe you’re even who you say you are, though I’ve never heard of you. Go on through, just don’t cause any trouble, or the militia men will come after you.”

Lisana tossed her head. “Well, come on then, minions. Let’s go.”

Her demons were allowed to pass, but the guards stopped Sin and Damin. “Halt, state your business.”

“That girl is my niece. I am her guardian on this journey.”

“Lisana the Great and Terrible, greatest sorceress of the South, is what this man claims true?” The second guard said this with a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. Obviously, he only used Lisana’s made-up titles to humor her.

Lisana nodded. “Of course. Now, let my minions through.”

The guards parted, and Sin rolled his eyes. “Minions?”

“Quiet, mortal fool.”

They emerged from the tunnel under the wall into a bustling market square. Chifumi peeked out of one of the saddlebags. “When Harrison came to the Capitol before Sin was born, he stayed at the Shield and Sword Inn. It’s a bit up that street.” She pointed down a street that was not quite as busy. “Let’s go there.”

Lisana nodded, and had the black mare pick it’s way through the crowd. A man refused to move, and Kelrick and Anjaru silently picked him up and pushed him off to the side. Lisana stalked up to the door and shoved it open. Damin and Sin followed behind her, stifling grins. The demons stood silently in the doorway.

The sorceress walked right up to the innkeeper, glared up into his eyes, and said, “I demand two rooms for myself and my companions.”

“Will that be two each, or two in total?” the man drawled.

“Two in total,” Lisana clarified. “And a stable for our horses. I assume my demons will be welcome in this establishment?”

“Well, actually ma’am…”

“Good. Now, I’ll take our keys.”

The man had a ghost of a smile playing on his lips. “How long will you be staying?”

Damin stepped forward, reaching for his coin pouch. “Three nights. That’s how much we will pay up front. Any longer will be paid day to day.”

The innkeeper took the coins and passed them the two keys. “Third floor, last two doors on the left. A good view of the palace.”

Lisana motioned to her demons. “Come along then.”

When they reached their rooms, Lisana swept into the first one. Sin and Damin had taken the packs and saddlebags from the horses, and fell onto their beds, unable to contain their laughter any longer.

“That girl sure can act,” Damin gasped as he caught his breath.

Sin tried to sit up and fell into another laughing spell. He took a deep breath and picked up Lisana’s pack. “I should take this to her. Then, I think I’ll have a bath. I can’t remember the last time I felt clean.”

Damin nodded. “I saw that the inn has a bath house. I’ll see you there.”

Sin knocked on the door to Lisana’s room, and Thalia opened it. Kelrick, in his hound form, dozed beneath the window. Anjaru was nowhere to be found, probably stretching his wings. Lisana looked up from where she sat on the edge of one of the room’s two beds. “What is it?”

“I have your pack.”

Lisana took it gratefully. “It will be nice to wear clean clothes again.”

Sin scratched Kelrick behind one ear. “Damin and I are going for a bath. When we’re done, do you want to go see the Capitol?”

“Sure! I guess I’d better make myself familiar with it, since I’ll be here for a long time. And I can try and find out where Arick Vonrist lives.”

A chill ran down Sin’s spine. This would be the last time he would see Lisana, perhaps forever. She would go off to become a powerful sorceress, and he would go back to… nothing. His home, his mentor, the land he had worked his entire his life, were gone. Perhaps he would go north, like Orrin, Julia and Grey had gone. He had no place in Harrisholt anymore. Maybe Chifumi would go with him. Damin would go back to his family, but Sin had nothing.

Nothing to hold him in place. Suddenly, his future seemed a little less bleak, if only because his future was a blank slate. He could become anything he wanted to be. He swore he would enjoy his remaining time with Lisana, Damin and the demons, and put on a brave face.

***

An hour later, Sin extracted himself from the warm waters of his bath. He toweled off and dressed in clean clothes. He and Damin met Lisana in the inn’s common room, and once again entered the busy market square. “Where do you want to see?” Damin asked.

“The docks,” Lisana replied. “I’ve never seen the ocean before.”

They walked through the city, Thalia and Kelrick padding alongside in their animal forms. A gaudy carriage barreled past, and Damin tossed Sin and Lisana out of the way.

He snarled as the carriage, pulled by two majestic white horses, continued to thunder up the street. “Now there’s a sorcerer’s carriage. Harrison told me about them. Bigger is better for sorcerers. Maybe one day you’ll have one like that, eh, Lisana?”

The sorceress shook her head. “No. Well, if I do, it will be a lot smaller. One horse. And open. I don’t want to be cut off from everyone else.”

As they continued on their walk, marveling at the sights of Castle Town, Damin took a man aside. “Excuse me, do you know where the residence of Arick Vonrist is? We have an appointment with him.”

The man scoffed. “You’re joking. Wait… you’re not joking.” Then, he sighed in disgust. “Rustics.”

Thalia hissed as he walked away. Sin glowered. “He didn’t answer our question. Are all city people this rude?”

“I’m sure there was a reason he walked away,” Lisana said. “He was probably in a hurry. We’ll ask someone else.”

Chifumi led them to the docks. Apparently, the monkey-like demon had been to the Capitol several times, and knew the route. She led them to a small embankment that overlooked the port.

The first thing Sin noted was the smell. There was fish, and sweat, and tar… and something else. It was salty in a way, but utterly indescribable. It was the pure smell of the ocean. In the port, at least fifty tall ships drifted, their sails stripped while they were moored. Out in the harbor, smaller fishing boats drifted. And even further out, on the edge of the eastern horizon, was what appeared to be a line of mountains.

“What’s that?” Sin asked.

Immediately as he said the words, Anjaru, in the shape of a human, was at his side. The Air Master must have followed them from the sky the entire time. “Those are islands that contain large amounts of iron. They continue all down the coast of the kingdom. It is also said that there is an iron vein in the mountains to the north and west.”

“So that’s why Orrin said the demons couldn’t escape,” Damin said with a nod. “So… why don’t you go south?”

Kelrick cleared his throat. As the humans had stared mesmerized by the ocean, he and Thalia had returned to their human shapes. “A giant desert. Far beyond Harrisholt, and technically outside the kingdom, is a desert that stretches for hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles. No living creature, except something very small, can survive there. No flying demon can make it to the other side without dying of thirst. Believe me, demons have tried to do this.”

Lisana looked as though she was pondering something. “Well, where did demons come from, then? If you’re stuck here, then how did you get here?”

“We were always here,” Thalia replied sharply.

“What Thalia means,” Anjaru clarified, “is that demons were created by the Elementals within this kingdom, to live here forever. Everything we need to live is here. The site where the First Demons emerged is sacred amongst our people.”

“Where is it?” Sin asked.

Kelrick glared at him ominously. “It is forbidden to tell a human the location of the Origin Dais. All we can say is that it is at the edge of the western mountains, the last safe place before the iron vein.”

“So where did humans come from?” Damin asked. “Were we placed here by the demons?”

Chifumi shook her head. “Harrison said that humans came from far away, beyond the sea.”

“What?”

“Over a thousand years ago, many humans came to this continent from another land across the ocean,” Thalia said softly. “Your history here only begins when the kingdom was founded, but demon memory goes much further back.”

Kelrick took over the tale. “When humans first came here, they were fleeing a great plague in their homeland that wiped nearly all of them out. The ones who came over on their small ships were the only survivors. They were not one united people, rather a number of scattered groups; each led by a ‘shaman’.

“These shamans could perform Human Magic, to a lesser degree than what is accepted nowadays. Whenever demons and humans fought, your people were easily overpowered. However, there came a day when one shaman realized he could use his magic to force demons to serve him.

“His power grew exponentially, and soon, other shamans realized his secrets. They enslaved demons, and soon a war broke out. The scars can still be seen on the northern plains. The shaman who struck the decisive blow against his enemies became the first king of this land, uniting his people. He immediately set the demons he enslaved and the demons of his followers building this city.”

Sin stared out at the water. “Anjaru? I have a question, not about the origin of demons, but the origin of… well, of me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to know what happened the night Artos died, the night I was born.”

Anjaru recounted in startling detail how Artos had ordered his three companions to hide while he lured their enemies into the Forest, trying to buy them time. How Talreya, Kutayara and Shiradre had cornered the Demon King as Liath led a force of demons against Harrisholt in the aftermath, and how Sin’s father had leapt into the fray.

Damin took up the account from there, telling Sin how his father had saved his life, and fought bitterly against Liath, driving her away, but not before she killed him.

Anjaru stopped Damin as emotion choked his voice. The Air Master sighed. “Somehow, in the confusion, using the power Talreya had gained from slaying Artos, the Chancellor was able to execute a coup, take over the Council and place himself close to the human king.”

“But if Liath was my grandfather’s demon… doesn’t that mean that he sent her to attack Harrisholt again?” Already, Sin was planning on finding his grandfather’s house, knocking the door in, and demanding an apology from the old sorcerer, and the funds to rebuild Harrisholt.

Chifumi tugged a lock of Sin’s hair. “Liath isn’t your grandfather’s demon anymore. Harrison got word a couple years ago. He… He died Sin. According to what the sorcerers said, it was of natural causes, but Harrison thought it was Kutayara’s poison.”

Sin felt that last hope crumbling away. He was so sure he could save Harrisholt. The people would accept him. Like him, even. He’d have a place in the world. But now, he had no future, none at all. The Chancellor and his demons had taken that away from him. He shrugged Chifumi off his shoulder.

“I’m going back to the Sword and Shield.” Sin turned and walked away briskly, hoping no one would see the tears welling in his eyes. “Don’t follow me.”

Lisana stepped forward, but Damin held out an arm. “Let him go. He needs time to cool off.”

***

Sin wandered the streets of the Capitol. He had said that he would go back to the inn, but he didn’t feel like it. Damin had the key to the room anyway. He had no destination in mind. He sort of hoped he’d find a bar to pick a fight in or something. Any way to blow off steam.

He discovered an outlet on one of the main thoroughfares of the city. A young noble, a man who had no magical talent but still held a large amount of land judging by the rich fabric of his blue heraldry, was shouting at a young woman in an orange frock.

“Get out of my way, common peasant!” He shoved the woman away.

“Please, noble sir,” the woman begged. “Just buy a little of my fabric. My brothers and sisters are starving!”

“I don’t give a damn about your starving family!” the man shouted back. People in the crowd moved around them, creating an open circle, waiting for the man’s temper to heat up. “Get an honest job!”

“We can’t sir! All I can do is sell the fabric we stay up all night weaving! My siblings, they’re too little to be out on the street alone!”

“Too busy picking all our pockets, more like,” the lord spat. “Move it! I’m in a hurry!”

The woman shook her head. “Please sir, just a yard. Your wife can appreciate the quality of it, see…”

“I said out of my way, wench!” The man backhanded the poor girl, sending her sprawling to the cobblestones. “Crawl back to your sinkhole.” He moved to kick her, and Sin could stand it no longer.

“Hey! How dare you treat a lady like that?” He positioned himself between the noble and the woman.

“Boy, that’s no lady. That’s trash. Now, step aside so I can make an example of her.” The noble drew his sword, an elegant length of silver. He shoved Sin aside with force Sin didn’t think the man possessed. The sword swept down on the woman’s exposed neck, and the young man from Harrisholt moved purely on instinct.

His sword sprang from its scabbard with a hiss, and he locked it across the blade of the noble’s sword. “Leave now,” Sin hissed. “Or with the Light as my witness, I’ll challenge you for your honor and hers right here and now. And I’m certain I can best you.”

He spoke in a low voice, so that the crowd could not hear him. To any outside observer, it would appear as if they were merely glaring at each other. Sin had tactfully allowed the man a way out, and hoped that his bluff wouldn’t be called. The crowd held it’s breath with anticipation.

The noble sighed. He sheathed his sword and pushed Sin aside, continuing down the road. Sin helped the peasant woman to her feet and shouted at the crowd, “Well? Don’t you have something better to do? All of you get out!”

Seeing there would be no fight, the people of Castle Town walked away, a little disappointed. The woman pulled Sin into a side alley. “Thank you.” She brushed her lips in a chaste kiss across his cheek. “I don’t think I would have made it out of there if you hadn’t stepped in.”

“Any gentleman would have done the same,” Sin replied, flushing a little.

The peasant woman laughed. “You’re not from Castle Town, are you? If you were, you’d know how dead wrong you are. The gentlemen and nobles here are anything what their titles imply.”

“You talk well for a member of the unwashed masses,” Sin observed.

The woman cocked her head to the side. “I come from a family that hit some hard times. A fine tutor educated me until I was fourteen. Now, as is only fair, you helped me, so now I have to help you. Anything you need, just ask, and if it’s in my power, I’ll help.”

“Arick Vonrist. Where does he live? The sooner I find him, the sooner I can be out of this accursed city.”

“Oh dear.” The woman was silent for a moment. “You really aren’t from around here. Arick Vonrist has been dead for almost two weeks.”

Sin did a quick calculation in his head. It happened after he and Lisana had left Harrisholt. Was it a coincidence? Well, Vonrist was probably an older man, so maybe. But he’d just heard that the Chancellor had killed a man who was perhaps his rival on the Council. If Vonrist was a friend of Harrison’s, he was most definitely a rival, if not an outright enemy of the Chancellor. No doubt that the two were connected in some way.

“Thank you,” Sin said brusquely. He moved to leave the alley, anxious to bring the news to Lisana.

“Wait!” the woman cried. “Do you want me to take you to his grave or something?”

“Not necessary.” And then Sin was swallowed up by the crowd.

***

“You’re kidding!” Lisana cried.

“No. It’s all true.”

“That… that harlot! She barely knew you, and she kissed you?”

Kelrick nearly fell out of his chair laughing. “Elementals, mistress. A dashing young gentleman saved her life. That’s the most obvious response to something like that. Right Thalia?”

“Shut up,” the Ice Maiden said, and gave Kelrick a withering look that probably would have sent the bravest warrior running for the hills. “Besides, what’s important is Vonrist is dead. Now what?”

Damin shrugged. “Well, we paid for three days at the inn. Might as well stay, right? Then, we can try and find Lisana a new mentor. Someone with her promise should have no problem finding a willing teacher.”

“The problem,” the young sorceress sighed, “is finding one who isn’t blinded by greed or corruption or something. Or a pawn of the Chancellor.”

“You’re asking for the moon now,” Anjaru chuckled, polishing an apple on the velvet inside of his cloak. “A sorcerer that isn’t corrupt. Good one.”

“Hey! I’m a sorceress, and I’m not corrupt!”

“Well, you haven’t been contaminated by power yet.”

Lisana put on her best authoritative face. “Anjaru, I command you to keep your mouth shut if you can’t say anything nice.”

The avian demon stood, bowed with a flourish, and sank silently back into his chair, a wry smile on his face. Sin knew that Lisana would never expressly order the demon to do a task he did not wish to do, but this game of small commands and mock obedience had been going on since Lisana was a little girl.

Kelrick leaned back in his chair, resting his feet on the nearby windowsill. “I think the best course of action would be to clear out of Castle Town. The Chancellor has eyes and ears all over this city. It’s only a matter of time before he finds us. And I’m willing to bet it will be sooner rather than later.”

Thalia nodded. “I agree with Kelrick. For once, he shows logic.” She ignored the dirty look the Hellhound shot her. “If we start making inquiries among the city’s sorcerers, one of them is bound to report back to the Chancellor. And I mean Bound in all senses of the word.”

Lisana blinked. “So… you’re saying we should just leave? What about reforming the Council? Bringing equality to demons? Am I just supposed to turn away from all that?”

Chifumi jumped up onto the nightstand. “Not exactly. There are other ways to affect the Council then by joining it. Harrison has secretly aided the Royalist faction for years, ever since Sin was born.”

“I’ve heard of them,” Damin growled. “Insurrectionists that attack border settlements in hopes of luring the Council to action against them. They want to overthrow the Chancellor, which is admirable, I suppose, but I won’t join up with mercenaries like them.”

Sin crossed his arms. “Agreed. I was trained as a guardsman, not a hired blade. There are better things I can do with my life than sow panic.”

Anjaru leapt up from his chair. “Spy! Don’t let that bird get away! It’s a demon!”

He lunged for the window, toppling Kelrick on the way. Anjaru yanked the window open and grabbed at a sparrow that was crouching in the ornamental flower box just outside. He sank back with a cry of frustration.

“I lost it! It’s smaller than I am, so it could go anywhere in this Elementals-forsaken city! And it heard everything!”

Sin chewed his lip. They had been discussing setting Lisana up on the Council, changing the societal structure beyond recognition and joining up with a rebellious group of terrorists and mercenaries. If word got to the right ears, they could be accused of treason. And executed.

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